The Pittsburgh Steelers play their second nation game in as many weeks when they host the Chicago Bears on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. Da Bears are 2-0 after two razor close wins over the Bungles and Vikings. The Steelers are… Well, no need to rehash the state of misery the Black and Gold have found themselves in after a truly wretched start to the season.
In the past 23 years, only 22 teams that started 0-2 have made the playoffs. During that same time frame, a grand total of 3 have made it after starting 0-3. So as bad as the Steelers have looked the first two games, there could still be hope if they win this week. That’s because after this week their schedule softens considerably – Jets, Bills, Raiders, two games against the Browns, who all but raised a white flag over the Factory of Sadness by trading Trent Richardson on Wednesday – to the point we could look up two months from now and find ourselves 5-5. Then it’s just a matter of getting hot down the stretch.
But for all that to happen, the Steelers must – MUST – beat the Bears.
BEARS OFFENSE vs STEELERS DEFENSE
Offense has been the Bears downfall in recent years to the point they finally fired head coach Lovie Smith and replaced him with an offensive oriented head man in Marc Trestman. Trestman’s job is clear: get quarterback Jay Cutler to finally realize his potential.
When Cutler begged his way out of Denver, the Bears thought they were landing a QB capable of putting them on the level with New Orleans or Green Bay. Since then, Cutler has had an inconsistent career, getting Chicago to the NFC Championship game in 2010 but missing the playoffs two straight years (despite finishing 10-6 last season) while suffering through an constantly rotating cast of receivers and offensive coordinators.
The Bears have steadily bulked up Cutler’s supporting cast to the point the team now boasts an assortment of weapons. WR Brandon Marshall already has two 100 yard receiving games and TE Martellus Bennett (3 TDs) is fast emerging as a dangerous secondary threat. RB Matt Forte is one of the game’s premiere multi-purpose backs equally adept at carrying the ball or making plays out of the backfield. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for Chicago.
Provided they keep Cutler upright. One of the problems plaguing the team in recent years was Cutler constant battle with the injuries which come from being under siege. The line boasts four new starters — two free agents and two rookies – who have allowed only one sack thus far. Cutler is still prone to turning over the ball, already throwing 3 INTs and fumbling once, so it’s imperative the Steelers test their line early and often.
The defense escaped Cincy with no notable injuries. Ike Taylor played one of his finest games in totally blanketing AJ Green so expect him to try and repeat that performance on Marshall. Defensive ends Brett Keisel and Cam Heyward and LB LaMarr Woodley all had good games, coming within a step of sacking Andy Dalton on several occasions. At some point, these guys along with Jarvis Jones and Troy Polamalu are gonna have to make a play, be it sacking the QB or forcing him into a turnover. The worst thing that could happen would be allowing Jay Cutler to relax in the pocket like he’s on vacation with his smokin’ hot reality TV star wife.
No matter how well they do limiting the yards and points, another zero sack zero turnover effort just won’t be enough.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs BEARS DEFENSE
Everybody has their opinion on how to “fix” the Steelers pathetic offense. Jerome Bettis went on ESPN and even suggested they forgo the run completely and go exclusively to a no-huddle pass-first look. When the friggin’ BUS is telling you to abandon the run, you know your backs are bad.
Word from ultra-secretive Steelers camp is Todd Haley is indeed ready to make some significant changes. RB Felix Jones is expected to start while rookie WR Markus Wheaton may see more snaps in the slot. Haley also mentioned he won’t hesitate to insert OT Kelvin Beachum into the game if one of the starting tackles continues to struggle.
All this is well and good but the main reason for optimism is the expected return of
Superman Heath Miller. He may not wear a cape or an S on his chest but Miller’s return will certainly improve the offense by leaps and bounds. If nothing else, Heath is a deadly third down target and even converting 3-4 more thirds would be a huge improvement for these guys.
It won’t be easy against a Bears defense that is aging but rugged. In many ways, Chicago is the mirror image of last year’s Steelers D, boasting many vets who trying to hold it together long enough for one last run. DE Julius Peppers, LB Lance Briggs, and CB Charles Tillman anchor all three levels of the defense with All-Pro experience. They haven’t been particularly good at generating a pass rush – two sacks through two games and allowing a whopping 50% conversion rate on third down – so if the Steelers offense is to get on track, this is the week to do it.
In fact, this is the week to do a lot of things. Play new guys, try new plays, pretty much turn it all upside down. Because what the Steelers have been doing hasn’t been working. And if they don’t figure it out this week, it may be too late.